MicroManaging is NEVER Good

A couple of months ago, another big name publisher tried to justify petty behavior under the name "leadership."  This time Forbes published an article entitled Sometimes Micromanaging Is Good - And Necessary by Christine M Riordan (click through the advertisement).  The subtitle explains further: "But not for long. Here are the times you have to do it." (emphasis mine)

To her credit, the author qualifies her comments.  She defines "micromanage" as

"A dreaded word. The dictionary defines it as 'to direct or control in a detailed, often meddlesome manner.'  Most popular management books call it something to avoid at all costs and give decisive tips on how not to do it."

Throughout the article, the author uses a broad definition for micromanagement.  So broad in fact that she might mean "direction." So for clarification, today let's distinguish micromanagement from direction.  There are times when direction is the order of the day.  Direction can be done with agreement.  It can be delivered in a way that doesn't meddle, or dismantle the respect and confidence of an individual.


Micromanagement is meddling, unsolicited direction.  There are times when it becomes necessary only because the manager can't control behavior any other way.  That manager must micromanage.  But there are always ways to inspire rather than control.  No manager must micromanage, or attempt to control behavior from outside the individuals.  They should inspire it from within.

In other words, choose to lead instead of attempting to micromanage.  Leadership inspires internal control that comes from inside the team members.  Leaders inspire people to make right choices and perform in a way that enables successful outcomes.

Managers substitute micromanagement and external control when they have no other method.  Micromanagement is one of the default behaviors in the absence of leadership.  External control is the tactic of choice for the weak manager. Inspiration and internal control are the preferred tools of a skilled leader.

Direct with Respect

Sometimes leaders must give direction, or authoritative instruction to team members.

When people have little confidence AND little competence in the job at hand, direction is the order of the day.  I use Ken Blanchard's Situational Leadership II as my model*.  But you can usually direct with respect, rather than as a meddler.

Three steps for positive direction:

  1. Give simple direction. State the facts.
  2. Reach agreement with the team members you're directing.  Do they understand their next actions and expected results?
  3. Maintain the agreement until a designated follow up time.

In emergencies, such as those described by the author, explain to your team that you will provide direction and allow the people being directed to agree to the direction and report back with their results.  You may even tell them you're going to watch.  Watch and direct for their benefit and only until they demonstrate their ability to operate without the supervision.  Maintain their individuality and respect them as contributors. You're still following up quickly, but expanding the time as they demonstrate ability.

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